As Isis frontman Aaron Turner's raw-throated gurgles periodically reiterate, his band plays death metal. Rather than celebrate the crypt, however, this Boston quintet prefers wide-open spaces. The cover of the group's new "Panopticon" is a series of aerial photographs of industrial sites, which provide an apt visual metaphor for the music within. The album's seven compositions proceed slowly, contrasting short outbursts of caustic noise with long passages of churning or gliding abstract rock.
"Panopticon" originally referred to an 18th-century plan for a prison where all the inmates could be observed from a central location; more recently, the term has been used to refer to contemporary societies where audio-video surveillance is increasingly common. If Turner and his cohorts have a position on such subjects, however, they're not pushing it. The occasional lyrics of such 10-minute numbers as "In Fiction" and "Syndic Calls" are buried in the mix, while guitarist Mike Gallagher and keyboardist-guitarist Cliff Meyer do most of the talking. The result is expansive and surprisingly lyrical, and more reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine (or Pink Floyd) than Slayer. Still, anyone allergic to death-metal vocalese should note that Turner does surface now and again to howl at the dark side of the moon.
-- Mark Jenkins
Appearing Monday at the Black Cat with These Arms Are Snakes and Dysrhythmia. To hear a free Sound Bite from Isis, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8124. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)